In a world currently filled with war, migration problems and controversial leaders, sometimes, some relevant news stories go overlooked in space of other headlines that will supposedly get more views. This article has been written to shed a spotlight onto the citizens suffering from the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, USA.
In this day and age, it has been accepted that not all people have protected human rights in third-world countries across the globe, but what if it this was the case in the richest country on Earth? This is the case for approximately 97,000 people living in Flint as they have struggled to find access to clean water, leading to a federal state of emergency.
This crisis first emerged in 2014 when the city of Flint decided to begin extracting its water from the nearby Flint River over importing it from Detroit as a way to reduce costs. This project took 10 months to be completed and had cost the city a total of $171,000. Unfortunately, some necessary precautions to maintain the lead pipes used to transfer clean water to the rest of the city using this new system were not initially taken. Phosphoric acid should have been added into all these pipes since it is known to prevent corrosion. It was due to this error that these pipes corroded and filled all inhabitants’ water with toxins and carcinogenic materials such as lead and other metals.
Regardless of the potential consequences, phosphoric acid was chosen not to be added to the lead pipes to simply save money. Based on studies done by the Water Research Foundation in 2009, the average price of phosphoric acid had increased by 233% in 2008 alone. While Flint was engineering this project, the price of this weak acid was still rising. At the moment, this price stands at $850/mt. In theory, by not adding this corrosion inhibitor, the dying city of Flint was going to save around $140 a day or $51,100 annually.
This resulted in residents receiving dirty-coloured water that granted several side effects. Some side effects include: rashes, loss of hair, illness and cognitively impaired children. Cognitively impaired children suffer from learning, concentrating, decision-making and have trouble remembering. This causes these innocent children to develop at an alarmingly slower rate than needed. As a result, the citizens of Flint opened a school exclusive to the children who were born during this water problem. According to census data, 8657 children have been exposed to lead from the contaminated water. It is important to note that there is no safe level of lead inside someone’s body.
Despite all of this, these people are still subject to some of the highest water taxes in America. Flint shows no defined fees for water online as it adopts a slightly different system of payment to other cities. However, when a few natives were asked on how much they pay monthly for water, the price ranged from $60 to hundreds. On the ridiculous side of things, there even exists a case where one unfortunate local owes a grand total of $10,000 and is obviously being threatened to get her water shut off.
The table below compares the average price that citizens from the driest cities in USA pay for water on average (ABC12).
|Las Vegas, Nevada||
According to Flint’s Chief Financial Advisor Hughey Newsome, the people living in Flint are still obliged to pay their water bills since it covers a payment for water used and the sewage system. Newsome argued with a reporter that since people never stopped using the city’s sewage system, they should still pay the usual tax. Some locals believe that they should pay subsidized fees as compensation. While citizens were given a 65% credit on water bills, this stopped in mid-February in 2017.
Due to these circumstances, most householders have unsurprisingly resorted to using nothing but bottled water. However, the monopolistic company “Nestle” has an agreement with the state of Michigan to pump 400 gallons of groundwater every minute to resell it as bottled water under the “Ice Mountain” brand. This project was upgraded from 250 gallons/minute in April 2018, despite receiving a record amount of public comments against it. A staggering 80,000 Michigan residents were told to be against it with just 75 being in favour. Moreover, since Michigan does not tax bottled water production, Nestle are making a fortune. This is now becoming a problem since Michigan governor Rick Snyder shut down the “Free Bottled Water Campaign” in April 2018 after water tests showed that the water has improved, even though residents claim otherwise and that no tests were officially recorded.
Alas, Flint is the poorest American city for its size. With around 40% of habitants sitting below the poverty line, thousands of people are left almost helpless during these tough times. As they cannot gain access to clean water without breaking their banks, many have resorted to crime to help keep themselves afloat. As a result, FBI statistics from 2016 show that Flint is one of the USA’s most dangerous cities. In just 2016, there were 6419 total recorded incidents. This includes 1545 violent crime incidents, being 254.05% higher than the state rate and 298.88% higher than the national rate. There were also 3323 property crime incidents, being 78.36% higher than Michigan’s rate and 39% higher than the national rate (all rates taken are from 2016). Although it has been dangerous for many years now, a spike of homicides emerged from the city in 2015, around the same time people realised there was a problem in the water.
In conclusion, this story seems to have been swept under the rug as not many people know about it all. The city of Flint is currently in peril for many as this water crisis has led to a chain reaction in the city’s downfall.
Written by: Kyle P. Camilleri